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«Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism


Edited By Filippo Maria Giordano and Stefano Dell'Acqua

Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1900–1985), Dutch pastor and theologian, was one of the most significant personalities in the Protestant Ecumenical movement. Deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and filled with a strong Ecumenical spirit, he was closely involved in the founding of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected General Secretary. During the Second World War, many Protestants became convinced of the need for an international political system which, beside uniting the nations and peoples of Europe, would guarantee them fundamental freedoms and mutual respect for their historical, cultural and confessional traditions.
The directors of the WWC were strongly committed to federalism, partly because of the political traditions of the states from which their member churches originated (Switzerland; Great Britain and its Commonwealth; the United States), and partly because of their conviction that a simple confederation of states, based on the model of the League of Nations, would be completely incapable of containing national ambitions. In spring 1944, Visser ’t Hooft welcomed into his Geneva home the representatives of the European Resistance, who, under the leadership of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, signed the International Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements. These historic transnational encounters, aimed not only at coordinating military action or seeking diplomatic contacts but at exploring ways to «build» peace and re-establish the future of the Continent on new foundations, marked a profound break with the past.
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A Protestant and Political Solidarity



Visser ’t Hooft’s Relations with the German Anti-Hitler Resistance


In Willem Adolph Visser ’t Hooft’s memoirs only the German Resistance has earned the right to have a whole chapter entirely dedicated to it. This suggests how much importance the Dutch Pastor attached to it from an ethical, religious and political standpoint at a crucial stage in the history of Europe as well as to the relationships created with some of its members.

In Germany, a clear ethical and political issue arose at that time: for German citizens, who were aware they had been deprived of their rights, developing an alternative view of Germany and Europe was a moral duty. However, above all, in the words of Claus von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assassinate Hitler on July 20th, 1944, it was a question of running the risk of looking like traitors to their country in the eyes of those who did not distinguish between Germany and National Socialism, rather than betraying their own conscience.

More specifically, Visser ’t Hooft’s relations with the German Resistance developed through individual and specific personal acquaintances and at this juncture a Protestant solidarity played a key role. While it is true that two German Socialist ISK (Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund) militants, Hanna Fortmüller and Hilde Meisethe1, attended the meetings ← 217 | 218 → at Visser ’t Hooft’s house in Geneva in the spring of 19442, which resulted in the drafting of the well-known Federalist Declaration of...

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